Why BSL Doesn’t Work

I am a mother. I am also a dog owner and dog trainer who has committed my life to helping people find the most effective, humane and responsible way to live in harmony with their dogs while also affording them the respect they deserve. Over thousands of years, these beautiful creatures have gradually been domesticated by humans, so it is therefore incumbent upon us as the higher species to give them the tools they need to live successfully in our strange, human environment. Too often, however, we fall short and fail to understand the intricate yet ultimately simple dynamic that exists between man and dog, transposing our human insecurities and weaknesses onto dogs and assuming that they’re capable of being treated like and judged as four-legged humans.

Lennox was confiscated by the Belfast authorities because of how he looked.

This fundamental disconnect has recently been exposed publicly once again by the recent firestorm surrounding the case of Lennox, a Bull Dog/Labrador cross owned by an extraordinarily responsible family in Belfast, Ireland. 10 months ago, Lennox was confiscated by the authorities in Belfast simply because his bodily dimensions fall into a breed category the government calls a ‘Pit Bull Type’.  Pit Bull Type dogs are one group among several breeds which have been banned in Northern Ireland by Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). The general concept underpinning BSL is that the most effective way to determine whether or not a certain dog could potentially pose a threat to humans is by classifying and generalizing entire breeds of dogs as ‘dangerous’, regardless of the individual dog’s temperament, behavioral history or owner’s actions.

It continues to confound me that there are still proponents of BSL given both the behavioral science which is now available and the abysmal track record of municipalities that have attempted to curb dog attacks by instituting BSL. We know so much more than we did even 20 years ago about how dogs think, what they feel, how their brains are wired (very similarly to ours, as it turns out), and what could potentially cause them to aggress. Ironically, one of the most commonly found attributes among aggressive dogs is not their breed, but rather a lack of confidence and insecurity. Think of the typical schoolyard bully – is he generally a self-confident kid or one who actually suffers from significant insecurity issues? The same general concept can be applied to dogs.

Regardless, counties, cities and entire countries around the world continue to turn to BSL policies in a desperate attempt to protect their public from the rising number of serious (and sometimes fatal) dog bites. I share this desire to reduce the number of dog attacks. As a doting mother of a beautiful 7 year old girl, my heart literally breaks every time I hear about another child who has been mauled by the family dog, which is why I have set up a Dog Bite Prevention Task Force to help educate the public about responsible dog handling and safety. The vast majority of fatal dog attacks share one glaring yet often-overlooked characteristic: usually at least one component of the scene is not in its usual environment. Either the dog is staying with the uncle, the grandparents are babysitting for the child, or someone outside their normal circumstance is placed as the primary guardian. The key to avoiding these tragedies is not to make owning certain breeds illegal, but rather to ensure that everyone in charge of dogs and/or children is educated about safe practices and never leaves any dog alone with any child.

Pit bulls can make great family pets in the hands of a responsible owner

Simply put, any breed of dog can bite, and any breed of dog can make a perfect family pet. Yes, the bigger and stronger the dog, the more damage it is capable of inflicting, although I have seen horrific footage of bite wounds from small dogs such as Jack Russell Terriers and Chihuahuas as well. Which breed of dog was named ‘most aggressive’ in recent scientific studies?  The family Dachshund. Does that mean we should add Dachshunds to the list of ‘Dangerous Dogs’ as defined by lawmakers in favor of BSL? Of course not. Years ago it was German Shepherds in the bullseye. Then Rottweilers. Now Pit Bulls. I’ve trained countless Pit Bulls, and have found them to be among the most loyal, smart and trainable dogs I’ve worked with. That said, it is indeed possible to turn them into deadly weapons if they’re in the wrong hands, just as it is with any breed of dog. Every dog is different, and those differences are not due to the breed of the dog, but rather to the individual dog’s breeding and the environment in which it was raised. Using aggression, intimidation and forced submission on a fearful, unconfident dog is like treating fire with fire, as the dog’s issues are often merely suppressed rather than treated and resolved effectively. In the majority of cases, dogs like Lennox that are confiscated due to BSL are inhumanely warehoused and dealt with using this confrontational approach, which often creates the very problems the law was attempting to avoid.  Having not had a chance to evaluate Lennox for myself since he’s been incarcerated, I can only hope that his tortuous past few months have not made him another victim of this vicious cycle.

Victoria has worked with countless pit bulls and considers them fantastic pets in the right hands.

So if we’re not going to ban certain breeds, what’s the solution? As a society we must focus on the other end of the leash. First, we must make a concerted effort to crack down on and eliminate ‘backyard’ breeders and puppy farmers who churn out puppies with no regard for the well-being of the dogs and are only interested in making money. But the most effective way to reduce the number of dangerous dogs is to stop irresponsible owners from raising their dogs to be aggressive, intimidating potential weapons.

It infuriates me to see the number of ‘macho’ men who want to get a big, strong, intimidating-looking dog in order to stroke their own egos and replace whatever ‘manliness’ may be missing from their own anatomy. Bully breeds in particular have borne the brunt of this phenomenon lately, where just because of the way the dog looks, he’s classed as a dog not to be messed with around the neighborhood. The same concept is at play (though usually with less ominous results) when a trendy soccer mom wants to get the latest designer crossbreed because it is the ‘in’ thing to do. I’m always frustrated when I hear people say they want to get a certain type of dog ‘for protection’, not realizing that actual protection dogs are incredibly rare, while their family pet-turned-guardian is actually nothing more than a ticking timebomb waiting to go off once their child brings a friend over for a playdate. If you feel like you need protection, invest in an alarm system instead of a dog.

If we could somehow prosecute those who willingly encourage their dogs to be aggressive, I firmly believe the number of tragic accidents would decrease significantly. But even if that’s not possible in the short term, or even if one chooses to ignore the facts that science has presented to us about animal breeds and behavior, there’s one more simple but powerful argument against BSL: it doesn’t work.

Statistics have shown that throughout the world, wherever BSL has been initiated, the number of dog bites has actually increased since the legislation has passed. This is the case in Scotland, England, parts of Canada, certain cities in the US, the Netherlands and beyond. In every single case, dog bites have become more of a problem since governments began banning breeds. What more evidence do we need as a society to realize that BSL is ultimately ineffective, if not also unfair?

So as Lennox passes his seventh birthday in isolation in his Belfast jail cell, I urge you to contact your local government and speak out against BSL while calling instead for greater responsibility by owners. Let’s give the animals we’ve domesticated the best possible chance to succeed in our world – it’s the right thing to do not just for the dogs, but for our safety as well.

Official 'Save Lennox' Website


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  • Kris

    Wonderful article, Victoria. I'm in the States and have a pit bull--I have experienced housing discrimination because of my dog's breed, despite a pile of glowing references, a Canine Good Citizen certification, and ongoing enrollment in training courses. No one has anything negative to say about this dog, and I did eventually find a place with a private landlord who was willing to call the references. But the situation for pit bull type dogs in the first world is absurd right now.

    I read a story earlier today about police shooting 30 bullets into a pit bull puppy that approached them. 30 bullets is a lot to put into a juvenile dog even if it is acting threatening, and I would honestly not be surprised if the dog was not being threatening.

    People are disproportionately scared of pit bulls. There needs to be education about dogs--in schools and in communities--about safety and including something about the science of how dog breeds work.

  • Mindy

    David, GREAT point. My Pit has shown fear of children ever since a girl ran up behind him, once. I was eating with a friend outside a restaurant with my dog at my feet. I'm not sure if he had drifted off or what, but for whatever reason, he didn't seem to hear the little girl run up and by the time she was up to him, he was startled and terrified! After that, he would bark if most kids approached him, though oddly, if kids approach with their mother by their side, he will be friendly to both.

    I found my dog as a newborn, and he was raised with small animals. He LOVES cats, but stranger cats really don't appreciate his enthusiasm. He is only just turning two, so no matter how much energy he runs off, he always seems to have a ton of new energy to greet anyone or anything. A lot of people act afraid of him, and that seems to really upset him. He will cry if someone goes out of their way to avoid him! (Including cats and the wild coyote pup that ran past us one night that he so desperately wanted to chase.)

    Unfortunately, I have experienced a lot of bias toward these dogs, first hand. Before I found him, I didn't even know it was so bad. I can't take him to the dog park for exercise anymore because he likes to play with his mouth open and teeth showing (he does this with my KITTEN, even, and he'd never hurt her and has never bit another animal or person), and other owners who I guess were oblivious to other dog body language signs would freak out. One day, a man who was closer to my dog than I was when he was playing like this grabbed my dog by the neck and started kicking his stomach, and screaming, "you can't have a dog like this, here!" I couldn't believe it!

    The other problem I noticed was that people took their dogs to the dog park to play ball with them, instead of letting them interact. A lot of those dogs were possessive over their balls and would snap at other dogs that chased, as well. But my dog didn't care about the ball - he just wanted to run after the dog running! He thought this was great fun. But the dog would get snippy because he thought my dog wanted the ball. And then their owner would get angry and mean. Since you can't have dogs at the dog part on a lead, I simply don't go, anymore. I can't risk his safety.

    I got similar reactions at the Dog Beach. One man's puppy kept attacking my dog, and my dog would just sit and put his head straight up so the pup could only reach his neck and just let the puppy do whatever. The owner pulled his dog away a few times, but it kept running back to attack my dog. Then the owner started screaming at ME that I shouldn't have "a dog this big" at the beach! Uhh... There are Great Danes and Mastiffs there, and my dog was just a little over 40 pounds, at the time! Not to mention, he wasn't doing any harm. But again, I got a lot of owners getting aggressive with my dog, because he likes to play rough. So now I have to have him on a leash at the beach. It breaks my heart, because I know he just wants to go running off. He never went too far, always came back to me after a bit. I am pretty sure these peoples' complaints had little to do with my dog's size or pretty much other than the fact that he's a Pit Bull! (And, of course, I've heard people murmur their disappointment while mentioning the breed, as well.)

    And it is really only recently that I've found out I can't move to New Zealand, Australia, or Canada like I'd someday planned to, or even the UK - because you can't import Pit Bulls, there! Even though they aren't banned throughout all of these places. But I'll never give up my dog, and I doubt I'd ever want any other breed, now that I've had one!

  • Susanna

    In Finland, Victoria's tv-show have ended. It's not good, because now there is in tv worse trainer... Who thinks that repression is best way train the dog. Really isn't. And those "fightdogs" can really be good pets, if people can only train them right way. Sorry my bad english...

  • Elyse

    Thank you for posting this. Responsible bully breed owners need as much support like this as possible, especially when it seems like society is pitted against you for no fault of you or your dog. I have an eight year old pit mix, a year old heinz 57 that is constantly mistaken for a pitbull breed and oddly enough a dachshund mix. I say mix because they have all been adopted from high kill shelters and a rescue so I actually have no real idea what they are (none of them completely conform to any one breed's standard)... and to be honest if it wasn't for this BSL I wouldn't care. I have always chosen my dogs based on temperament, how well they fit into my family and our lifestyle, not what they looked like. I can't agree more with you on people choices for choosing an animal are generally stupid with little regard for understanding that they are not something you can pass off when you get bored with it. I like to think people at the least vaguely understand how cruelly many of these pitbull type dogs are treated but don't seem to connect the two when one finally acts out. All of the dogs at my house are companion animals, not residential dogs dumped in back like lawn ornaments. THAT is why they are well behaved and confident animals, that is why I my dogs trust me to protect them.. not the other way around, and that is why I want to personally strangle EVERY person abusing or neglecting their dog while that "dangerous" dog takes it without fighting back.

  • Priscilla

    I have been a bully breed dog owner for years starting with a Shepherd, then my 125 pound lap puppy Rottie-Sheba and now my BellaDona (American Staffie Terrier at 60 pounds) and Whippet (American Pitbull terrier at 80 pounds). It is amazing how anyone can be cruel to any type of animal that relies soley on us to care for them and feed them. I have educated many an individual about the breed and caring for these bully breeds and explained that you have to be the Alpha part of the family to have them respect and listen to what you say. It is not the dogs fault that they are abused. If individuals were treated the way that they treat these breeds then maybe they would think twice before they harmed any other animal. I trully do not believe that anyone that does not know how to care for an animal of any type should be able to get a animal at a whim and think that they can just tie them up in the back yard and neglect them and it is okay. There should be stiffer laws with regards to owning animals and more diligent individuals to enforce these laws. Animals give unconditional love and all they ask for is alittle time and love back.

  • Sam

    I totally agree with above posts. Some breeds are so discriminated against-its not fair! I myself own two labradors and they are usually universally accepted, but my 2 year old yellow lab likes to play with his mouth open as well, and people tend to freak out! Thankfully, we have a dog park where a number of pit bulls play with other dogs and no one cares.
    I cant believe anyone would kick someone else's dog! I would sure the hell out of them and I probably would kick the guy that dared touch my dog!!

  • KDMonster

    So true! It is the irreponsible owners who should be banned, not the dog breeds! I have known very loving affectionate pit bulls, along with one very unfriendly Maltese. Given the choice of those 2 breeds I would take the pit bull any time. Just another example of th government deciding what they think is best, and a flock of public sheep that go along with it. BSL is so wrong and needs to be stopped!

  • LIsaDogMom

    I am not a pitbull owner but know and have known many a pitbull and many kinds of owners. My saddest story is of Tucker, a lovely, lovely dog that I did not know was also a fighting dog. I found out at a party one night. Tucker was there and I called him over to say 'hi', his owner, trying to be a tough guy also called him, well untortunately for Tucker came to me and as a result was subsequently beaten by this owner. A friend then told me that he was a fighting dog and when I confronted the owner, he replied that he wouldn't want my house to burn down. This was years ago, but something I will never forget. My foundest memory was of a pitbull named Rang, who ran away from home and showed up at my house, how he found it to this day, I do not know. Anyway, Rang went to the back yard and my husky was there, I called Rang and he came running to me, looking for some attention, certainly not looking to cause trouble. Becoming friends with the owner, Rang would come out to my cottage and walk on the beach with me greeting people and having the time of his life. I totally agree that no matter what the breed, you can often relate the dog's temperment to its owner. I now have a small terrier and a husky and no matter who we meet I (sometimes forcably) remain calm and somewhat jovial in our encounters, putting my dogs at ease - I never want them to feel my stress, even if we are meeting up with a big dog that could eat my little Abbee in one bite. My hero is Cesar and when he came to Canada last fall, he could not bring his education animal, Junior, a pitbull to Ontario, I wrote in to the province complaining that Junior would go along way to educate people about the breed, training, etc. but if fell on deaf ears. I was ashamed to be Canadian - when Cesar came to Alberta and I went to see him - no Junior, no Cesar dog at all. And when Cesar paid tribute to belated Daddy, another pitbull, his teacher, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

  • Danie

    First of all, I want to say much respect and love for Victoria Stilwell. You are an awesome lady and I admire you for all that you do.

    I agree that BSL is totally bogus!

    My heart breaks for Lennox. I read some of the posts on here and was also very saddened when I read Mindy's post as well as the story about Tucker, the fighting dog. It brought tears to my eyes.

    I don't personally own a pit bull yet, but my son does. She is one of the sweetest dogs I've ever met! She is my dog's (German Shepherd/Doberman mix) best dog friend. The 2 female dogs hit it off instantly. They LOVE each other and act like they've always been around each other, even though they only have bi-weekly visits.

    It's not the dogs, it's the people! Let's keep spreading the word and help educate people about dogs.

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  • sherry

    I believe law enforcement agencies are treating these large breed dogs like guns.They can't get them away from criminals fast enough, so they're using law abiding citizens as an example. Criminals use them as weapons. Law enforcement needs to step up to them, NOT the good people who follow the law. Victoria and Cesar, and all these animal trainers and behaviorists know what they're talking about. WHY don't the authorities listen? Thank you

  • Maria Hinchliffe

    I think this is absolutely ridiculous how they can just judge a dog by his/her looks. I don't believe that you can even judge a dogs temperament by it's breed alone. Each dog is unique, has its owns personality. Pits were once "hired" as babysitters. This breed has too much bad rep. You can get tiny lap dogs who are vicious as anything, because they have most likely been spoiled and become possessive. Every breed of dog has it in them to be vicious, if there in the hands of irresponsible, or unexperianced owners. Plan owners, not the breeds.

    Why is this case still going on? To me they idiotic ignorant council should of handed Lennox back by now! If they are so concerned about him being dangerous, why don't they get a dog trainer who knows what they are actually talking and check him out? But then I fear they would get a biased "trainer"?

    I hope this time round Lennox is finally freed and allowed to go back to his family. God knows how scared he must be feeling being left by himself like that in a dirty cell!

  • Amber

    Hi I used to own a Staffy called Shadow, he was the most loyal loving dog I ever owned.
    But we always got trouble from people when out walking (as he was quite a chunky dog with a big head) anyway Shadow must have been 4 months old when it started, we were walking down the road and a lab puppy came running towards him and of course they started to play (chasing eachother baking the usual puppy stuff) and this woman came flying out of her garden telling me to get my dog away from hers and as i tryed to explaine there just being puppys and playing she started threating me (i was 13 years old at the time) and my poor nephew (he was about 8 years old) and she stormed off.

    Another time was when Shadow was 14 months old and he was playing with my friends Lab cross and this collie came out of no were at started attacking him and of course my recation was to get the dog off as i tried the collie went for me till my friends dog jumped in garding Shadow and keeping this dog away from him the whole time the collies owner was stood there laughing and calling my dog a pussy saying hes bred to fight and should fight back, he left when my friend threatend to call the police on him we took shadow to the vets and he was fine needed some stiches but he always had scars on his head nose and ears (about 6 small scars on his head and ears and a two big ones on his nose)

    There has been quite a few incodence like this I could write a book.... i think the worst time for my dog was when to jack russles attacked him (he was 4 months old) and this man (he had kids with him aswell I felt so sorry for them having and igorant man like that as a farther) he was shouting at me saying i should have had my dog on a lead ( we were in the woods and he was playing with my cousins bulldog and german shepherd but as soon as Daisy (my cousins German shepherd went for his dogs he called them and walked off I was left there thinking WHAT THE HELL!! (dont get me wrong Shadow could fight his own battles but I didnt like my dog fighting and getting hurt) after that when ever he saw a jack russle(apart from my cousins as they were brought up togeather) or a collie type dog i would have to put him on a lead cause he would start barking at them

  • Helen Stable

    How brillantly written and my way of thinking entirely I really wish the Governing agencies listen to common sense and abolish BSL and release Lennox and others who have been taken for no other reason than the way they - Its a disgrace!

  • Helen Stable

    For the way they look - Its a Disgrace!

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  • Thank you Victoria, not only for this article but for everything you do for these Bully Type dogs. I saw you at the Atlanta Bully Rally 10-22-11 and you are very impressive.The only way we can put an end to BSL is by continually educating the public. You are not only talking the talk,You are walking the walk.And I,for one,am right beside you!!! !

  • Laura

    Does anyone know why most of the Lennox pages has suspended? omg has something bad happened about Lennox case?
    I have send e-mails for Belfast Ciy council but never had answer back.
    I think it's time for end this horrible thing and let Lennox go home with his family.
    The dog wardens should put into those gages after that! This makes me totally sick.
    My heart brokes when reading again and again stories of Lennox =(

    Thank You Victoria for being who You are

  • i truly wished they listened to experts in Denmark, and also that the danes would:/

    no matter what expert and science you give them they claim :"these people dont know what they are talking about"

    its so HARD to keep on fighting the media, the danes and the govournment and sometimes i just want to give up and cry

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  • Archie

    This sort of BSL crap made ME afraid of Pits! I wanted one until they started pouring rubbish into my ears. I'm still a little reserved, but I am going to a shelter to meet some Pits and I'm going to see for my own eyes what these dogs are like.

    People need to stop eating up everything the media feeds them, and they need to go see it with their own eyes, exactly how it is.

  • Heather

    I have much to say in regards to thanking Ms. Victoria for this article; but for now, I want to direct this comment towards Archie for one reason- to say THANK YOU. Thank you for giving our dogs a chance, and instead of hoping on the bandwagon, and hating our dogs, like many do, with little information, and no good reason, you are going to see for yourself. This should be some kind of law- don't doubt before you try! Make sure to ask lots of questions and meet lots of Pits! Us "positive pit bull people" love to answer questions, demote pit bull myths and B.S.L, and promote positive pit bull awareness You'll fall in love! Thank you again, for getting to know our dogs, giving them a chance, and being a sensible person in general :o).

  • Veronica

    My husband and I have always thought that Pit Bulls were vicious dogs too, especially when the Dog Fighting was very popular in the 80's. My husband and I have always gotten our dogs at a shelter. We firmly believe in saving a life. One day we decided to go to our local county shelter to look at the dogs. We were looking for a companion for our senior dog BoBo (who now is up in heaven). We saw a few dogs, a great Dane, a golden retriever and then we saw this cute dog she was one yr old and her name was Daisy. She is the cutest thing we ever saw. We though she was a lab mix. We were told by the lady at the shelter that this dog was returned 3 times to the shelter, but did not know why. She wanted to play with us and when I was talking to her about BoBo she raised her head, her ears went up and she winked with one eye at us. We told the shelter that we wanted her. We filled out the paper work and was told there was a 3 day wait for them to check our references. Two days later, I received a call at work telling me that Daisy was ready to be picked up. When I was picking her up and signing the papers My son had asked me what kind of dog was she and I had said a lab mix. The woman at the shelter told me no she is not a lab, she is a Pit Bull terrier mix. I looked at her and said, "She's What!!". I called my husband and told him what breed she was and he said the same thing. I looked at this dog who was now sitting at my feet with these sad eyes and said, "I guess I have alot of reading and research to do on this breed to get to know it". The lady behind the desk called Daisy when she got to the door and held up a stuffed animal, which I guess was her toy when she was at the shelter and ran to her and took the toy. Daisy was so happy to be out of the shelter. We brought her home and she had to work on getting accepted by BOBO. We had Bobo for 12 yrs before we got Daisy too. After all the research and reading on the Pit Bull Breed. I would love to adopt more. Daisy is so gentle, she actually took care of Bobo when she got really sick with kidney failure, and could not walk anymore and kept falling. Daisy would always come and get us to help Bobo. We have watched shows like Pitt Bulls and Parollees, and the Pitt Boss. We also watch It's me or the dog and took many of the training that she used on the show to train Daisy. Daisy thinks she is an 80 lb lap dog. We love her so much. I would not trade her for the world. When we are finished training her of little behavior issues we have with her such as being so attached to me and having separation anxiety from me and follows me from room to room we will consider to get another dog. I read all about Lennox and am in tears and I never even met the family or Lennox and feel that it is just so unfair that this dog is being treated the way it is. The thing now is, Lennox was fun loving and gentle when it was with the family 2 yrs ago and now has lived in this little cell with no human contact. Would he now have some behavior issues such as being afraid of humans? This dog has lived in such bad conditions and probably has health issues being is saw dust and it's own poop that maybe Lennox would be better off in heaven. Lennox would not suffer of loneliness and would be in a happier place. But I do hope that Lennox is allowed to live and is allowed to come to the USA.

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  • Tina

    http://www.bluecross.org.uk/respectabull also provides information on the same topic. They do a great job, and check out the story on Jordan.

  • Jerry Edelman

    Very simple solution, we MUST educate people. We must educate our law makers and politicians to what the real problems and real solutions are... We must educate the people who have dogs what RESPONSIBLE pet ownership really is. And unless we start educating ourselves on what the real problems and solutions are, we will always look to the "easy" solutions that in reality are NEVER "easy" or "solutions"

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